The most popular SEO related questions people ask are:
- “What is SEO?”
- “How does SEO work?”
- “How to drive traffic to my website?”
- “How to get my website on Google?”
Taken together, these questions reveal the weirdest thing about SEO. Namely, most people get that it’s important, yet many people aren’t really sure what it is, how it works, or just how much of a role it plays (or should play) in a broader digital marketing strategy.
That said, the short answer to all these questions is more or less the same (and I’ll cover the long answers in just a minute).
SEO is the single most effective marketing technique you can use to drive traffic to your website; it signals to search engines that your site is a credible and engaging source of information, allowing you to boost website positioning in search engine ranking.
This is essential to business success because of the ways organic search engine ranking shapes internet users’ behavior.
Plus, site visitors who visit your site because of its search engine ranking are nearly 9x more likely to buy products/services, sign up for email lists, or return to the site at a later date than those attracted through any other type of marketing.
So keep reading to learn how to do SEO the right way and sign up for the newsletter at the end of the article to get the best SEO advice delivered to your inbox!
It’s the fastest way to grow your brand visibility, website traffic, and profits.
If you haven’t already, check out my post on how to start a Ghost blog from scratch. It’ll teach you everything you need to know to get your website in the air. When you’re done, come back to this blog post.
What is SEO?
Put simply, SEO — short for “search engine optimization” — is a process of using “organic” (non-ad) tactics to boost website visibility in search engine rankings.
Statistically speaking, it’s also the most important part of your digital marketing strategy since it can drive traffic to your website more effectively than paid advertising or other outbound marketing.
Whether you’re getting started with SEO for beginners or already using advanced SEO techniques, the end-goal of every SEO technique is the same: to boost website positioning in the search engine ranking.
That’s because the higher your site’s search engine ranking is, the more people will visit it.
Consider that up to 30% of website traffic goes straight to the top result for any given search, and only about 8% of searchers ever revisit the search engine ranking to pick a different page, and you’ll begin to see how search engine ranking can drive traffic to your website.
Beyond that, descriptively answering the question What is SEO? can be tricky.
Every year, industry experts debate what the next big thing will be in terms of how to do SEO right, including what the most valuable search engine ranking “signals” (the factors that have the biggest impact on search engine ranking) are.
Ok, but what is SEO really…?
Changes to search engine ranking signal weights notwithstanding, SEO best practices most consistently focus on five digital marketing strategy elements:
- Website architecture: Prioritizing fast loading and secure, simple user interaction.
- In-content keywords (and key phrases): Selecting keywords (both long- and short-tailed) based on consumers’ search habits and competitors’ SEO techniques.
- On-page SEO content marketing: Backlinking, crosslinking, and placing target SEO keywords in valuable locations (both in terms of search engine ranking algorithms and consumer psychology).
- On-page SEO content updates: Following a regular posting/updating schedule and minimizing both repeat content and dead, insecure, or incredible links.
- Off-page SEO habits: Developing a strong social media presence and link building.
All the best SEO strategies prioritize these elements in these ways, and all the best SEO guides and checklists focus on them.
That being said, advanced SEO techniques and SEO for beginners are about so much more than just finding keyword and content marketing hacks for how to get your website on Google’s first page.
The best SEO also involves:
- SEO auditing and analysis: Learning to run, understand, and respond to an SEO audit and how to use other SEO tools.
- Ongoing SEO education: Finding and signing up for high-quality SEO resources and courses (like our email list).
That’s because every industry, business sector, and individual company is different, so the SEO best practices for any given business will depend on its context.
What’s more, the best SEO techniques are continually changing, so staying up-to-date with those changes is a best-kept secret of the best SEO strategists!
A quick notice about the importance (& limitations) of organic search result ranking
The first step to SEO for beginners is to understand its goals.
Specifically, all SEO best practices aim to increase organic website traffic.
Many of the best SEO strategies focus on trying to boost website positioning in search results. However, some of the most effective SEO techniques consider consumer psychology as a way to increase search engine ranking.
That’s because, once you get your website on Google’s first page, unless it’s the top search result, the chances of attracting website traffic are about equal with other top-ten sites.
The SEO techniques that set websites apart at that point are things like:
- Using a question in the title (which increases website traffic by 14.1%)
- Having an odd number instead of an even number in a list-type page title (which increases website traffic by a statistically significant amount); and
- Creating a “freshness reference” by using a year in the title (which increases website traffic by about 20%).
Why is this relevant?
Because deciding how to do SEO can involve reconciling conflicting evidence and advice.
Moreover, whether or not your best SEO efforts drive traffic to your website ultimately depends on the real-life preferences of your target audience members.
So the thing that sets the best SEO strategists apart as bonafide SEO experts is maintaining a good awareness of the actual real human behaviors that SEO techniques seek to take advantage of.
How does SEO work?
SEO works by signaling to search engines that your website content is exactly the thing their users are looking for.
With good SEO techniques, the smallest B2B and B2C brands should expect website traffic rates around 89 and 149 page views per week, respectively.
That means capturing the top spot in search results about 300 and 500 times per week (again, respectively).
Of course, the lower your site appears in the search engine ranking, the more often you need to get your website on Google’s first page to hit those base numbers for business success.
Moreover, as your business gets bigger, you’ll need to drive traffic to your website in greater numbers to remain successful.
The mechanics behind proper SEO
Your website’s search engine ranking — and, consequently, the amount of website traffic it gets — depends on your decision to invest time and energy into high-value SEO techniques.
Search engines just want to connect their users to high-quality, search-term relevant content.
So the best SEO strategies give search engines the signs they’re looking for that indicate the best site content and experiences.
This involves taking advantage of how search engines’ crawlers, indexes, and algorithms work to build search engine rankings.
Web crawlers are search engine ranking software that navigates through every webpage that’s made search engine accessible.
Crawlers gather data from every webpage so it can be organised in preparation for creating reliable search engine ranking results
Indexes are search engines’ organization spaces.
Here, search engines keep track of different search engine ranking signals for every webpage crawlers visit.
Today, webpage indexing is increasingly more sophisticated in how it considers things like relevance (keywords use and density), freshness (date of the most recent crawl), credibility (association with other well-established sites), and site speed and security (based on underlying website architecture).
Search engine algorithms
Search engines use complex, closely-guarded, continually evolving algorithms to generate search engine ranking results based on indexed web page content.
Through these algorithms, search engines score website content for its fitness as a search result relative to every other webpage available.
It’s important to realize this process isn’t arbitrary; algorithms assign weights and degrees of importance to different search engine ranking signals because those things are often the most authentic indicators of site quality.
How does SEO work to balance relevance, freshness, credibility, and usability?
Representatives for Google and other search engines admit that the most important search engine ranking signals are content, metadata, and website performance.
Consequently, SEO techniques that best drive traffic to your website directly impact index information about site contents’:
- Relevance (search keyword-specific, with an easily identifiable purpose);
- Freshness (recently updated, unique, and non-repetitive);
- Credibility (well-linked to Trusted sites); and
- Usability (fast loading and easy to navigate).
Though this may make search engine ranking sound relatively straightforward, the most popular search engine (Google) has admitted that, in the past, its algorithms used more than 200 different signals to build search engine ranking results.
Whether that number of variables still persists is up for debate.
Yet no matter how many signals are still involved, some definitely count for more, and some will even get your website on Google’s first page by overriding (otherwise critical) oversights about how to do SEO.
For example, highly relevant content overrides reduced site loading speed, though they are both among the top three most important search engine ranking factors.
Similarly, having credible backlinks is one of the best-known SEO best practices, and some industry experts say it is near-impossible to get your website on Google’s first page without following basic SEO techniques for backlinking.
Nevertheless, sites without backlinks very occasionally appear in top spots in search engine rankings, though only when their content is highly relevant to the unique (non-industry) language search engine users are employing looking for a specific industry topic.
Keyword relevance always trumps usability.
But a lack of credibility trumps relevance except for when the algorithm is trying to accomodate for users not knowing the right jargon to search for what they’re looking for.
How to drive traffic
More than 90% of websites get no website traffic from Google, and another 5.29% get fewer than ten visits per month.
So, almost all website traffic goes to the top 4%-5% of websites.
Though that’s a little alarming, it isn’t really surprising.
There are about 4.2 billionweb pages and only ten chances to get your website on Google’s first page in any search.
This intense competition for visibility means that nearly two-thirds of site owners are almost guaranteed to never get your website on Google’s first page, let alone into the top three of any search engine ranking results… and that’s not because of any issues with the quality of their content or the SEO techniques tried.
That’s just because their approach to how to do SEO overlooks bare-minimum SEO techniques — like good link building — that search engines now expect just to be able to consider sites eligible to appear in search results at all.
Consequently, understanding how SEO works and can work, vs. understanding how to make SEO work for you, are very different things.
Even in SEO for beginners, the steps to get your website on Google’s first page start with fulfilling the minimum search engine ranking qualifications.
It’s only after that, that you can start working on out-performing competing sites to drive traffic to your website.
The bare minimum SEO techniques
Just like the rest of their algorithms, search engines aren’t terribly forthcoming when it comes to publicizing the current most-valuable criteria for inclusion in search engine rankings.
Yet we do know about a few of the bare-minimum SEO techniques you must do.
So good places to start working on SEO for beginners include:
- Ensuring your site is HTTPS compliant (and, if not, converting it from HTTP).
- Ensuring your site is mobile friendly (meaning its design is mobile responsive).
- Making sure site speed and individual page speeds are not being bogged down by running too many add-ons or plugins, or having poor caching practices in the site’s architecture (you can run a speed test here).
- Strengthening title tags for every website page by making sure they are unique, non-repetitive, keyword-laden, and between 40-60 characters in length. (Adding questions, freshness references, and odd numbers are more advanced SEO techniques related to title tags).
- Practicing good link building-specific SEO techniques. We know that it is nearly impossible to get your website on Google’s first page of search results without having a minimum of three backlinks. That’s because, among pages with no backlinks, nineteen out of 20 get no organic website traffic at all, and only about 0.1% get more than 300 page views per month.
- Writing keyword-laden meta-descriptions for each page that will help both the search engine and its users understand at-a-glance what information they’ll find on the page.
- Backlinking directly to authoritative, trusted, spam-free sites for the specific topic/search terms being targeted (find out what the most authoritative backlinks for your target keywords are here).
- Adding anchor text to links (that’s the text that appears when you mouse-over a hyperlink) where it will improve user experience.
- Adding geolocation information to take advantage of “near me” searches.
- Avoiding over-optimization.
This certainly isn’t all there is to the best SEO strategies.
But these do represent well-known and explicitly named high-value search engine ranking signals.
Plus, they’re also some of the most common SEO techniques overlooked when learning how to drive traffic to your website (because many people hyper-focus on SEO keyword research and content marketing).
When learning how to drive traffic to your website, over-optimization is one of the most common outcomes of over-enthusiastic adoption of SEO for beginners.
That’s because it’s possible to overdo some of the best SEO techniques for creating keyword relevance and credible link building — like increasing keyword density and adding anchor text to on-page hyperlinks.
SEO best practices for keyword density, for example, usually present things as simply as possible for SEO for beginners: that is, it’s a more-is-better kind of ideology.
But more is definitely not always better.
Content marketing strategies that lead to on-page keyword density greater than about 5% for any specific search term on any one page see their search engine ranking reduced, both for the one page and the domain as a whole.
Likewise, sites featuring more anchor text than is strictly necessary to enhance usability are penalized.
Trying to drive traffic to your website with what search engines consider fake signals of credibility and relevance ultimately backfires, resulting in lower search engine ranking and less organic website traffic.
When it comes to SEO for beginners, over-optimization due to over-applying good SEO techniques often presents as: keyword stuffing, adding unnecessary anchor text, creating non-branded and keyword-dense URLs, overusing “startpage links” instead of targeting “deep links” within the site when crosslinking, and having more than one H1 tag per page.
4 advanced SEO techniques
It’s fair to say that just having an average digital marketing campaign — one that’s well-informed by theories and statistics and general rules about how to do SEO — may not be enough to get your website on Google and other search engine results pages.
At least not where your target audience is most likely to see it.
Some search engines have copped to some key search engine ranking signals.
Yet everything else we know about how to get your website on Google’s first page comes from seeing strong correlations between certain SEO techniques and organic website traffic.
Run a free SEO audit
When you’re just getting started with SEO for beginners, some of the best SEO tools available to you are free SEO audit programs.
(Note: an SEO audit is just an evaluation of a website’s performance relative to its search engine ranking position).
That’s not to say every SEO audit tool is created equal — some are certainly better than others — and some are explicitly designed to focus on on-page SEO and content marketing.
Any SEO audit (free or otherwise) seeks to give you a good idea of your website’s “Googleability”; that is, its likelihood of being found through Google searches or other search engine activity.
Generally speaking, highly googleable sites appear fairly high in the search engine ranking for search terms that are both popular and relatively non-competitive.
Getting there isn’t just about picking popular keywords, though — you also have to pick keywords that are important, interesting, and within the search vocabulary of your audience.
Identify high-value keywords (balance competitiveness against popularity)
Some of the most effective SEO techniques for content marketing today involve optimizing site content for voice and other long-tail keyword searches (which are increasingly popular).
That is, picking niche key phrases made up of three to four words (especially questions) can help you not only get your website on Google’s first page of search results, but also boost website ranking so much that it appears first.
Some of the best SEO tools for keyword research of this kind are free or have a free version.
For example, one of the best-kept secret SEO techniques for finding high-value keywords is the bottom of the first page of any given set of Google search results, where related search terms and other commonly searched related topics are listed for free.
Write high-value content, not high-ranking content
This one seems counter-intuitive, but just hear us out: one of the fastest ways to end up over-optimizing your website content is to pursue a content marketing or overall digital marketing strategy that focuses more on SEO technique than on the needs of your target audience.
Creating content that clearly serves a purpose for the search engine user is almost always likely to boost website visibility authentically, so long as you use well-founded SEO techniques to support it.
This comes down to the idea of building domain authority — that is, working to drive traffic to your website by situating it as a consistently credible source of high-quality and engaging information.
Every page on your website contributes to your domain authority, so following a fast-paced, mediocre content marketing strategy can ultimately reduce your search engine ranking since content quality (credibility and relevance) is more heavily weighted than freshness.
Identify the proper source of information
As is probably abundantly clear by now, there is a lot of information available about the different best SEO strategies for business success in 2020 and moving forward.
That’s why one of the most important SEO techniques is to identify high-quality and trustworthy sources of information about SEO best practices.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the different recommended strategies for how to drive traffic to your website and how to get your website on Google’s first page.
The most important thing to remember is that the best SEO strategy can’t be built in a day, and the best SEO professionals are always adding more SEO techniques to their toolbelt.
So, learning SEO for beginners and understanding (and applying) more advanced SEO best practices should be a similarly ongoing and incremental process!
That’s why it’s so important to find sources of information that are easy to digest and easy to interact with.
And it’s also why I recommend signing up for the newsletter below.
That’s a wrap. You should know have a somewhat idea of what SEO really is, why it’s so important, and how to implement it on your brand new website.
What did you do to improve your website’s SEO?